Tuesday, March 14, 2017

March 14, 1903 -- Boosterism at the Auditorium

Walter L. Fisher
March 14, 1903 – Seventy members of the Merchants’ Club join one another at the Auditorium Hotel “with the avowed object of dissipating the pessimistic gloom which has pervaded the atmosphere of affairs municipal.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, March 15, 1903] The president of the club, Alexander A. McCormick, after a few opening remarks “not in a spirit of brag and bluster,” makes way for Secretary Walter L. Fisher of the Municipal Voters’ League, who begins “the bouquet tossing.”  Fisher, who went on to serve as the United States Secretary of the Interior from 1911 to 1913, touts the virtues of the City Council, saying, “Chicago, with all its young provincialism and its material crudity alone among the great cities of American can boast today of an honest city council, organized on lines of fitness and integrity, without regard to party politics.”  Fisher must have worked mightily to keep a straight face as he spoke.  The city’s schools and libraries are singled out for praise.  One speaker recounts the first meeting he had with Theodore Thomas, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s conductor.  “Would you come to Chicago if we gave you a permanent orchestra,” the maestro was asked.  “His answer was not complimentary,” the speaker warned. “He said, ‘I would go to hell if you gave me a permanent orchestra.’”  Dr. Emil G. Hirsch says, “Chicago has the greatest spirit of tolerance of all the cities of earth, prejudice having no root within her boundaries.”

March 14, 1981-- 19 people die and 14 others, including two policemen, are injured in an extra-alarm fire at the Royal Beach Hotel at 5523 North Kenmore Avenue in the city's Edgewater neighborhood. Inoperable smoke detectors and doors that are not rated as fireproof lead to the large loss of life in a fire that apparently begins in the building's laundry room which also doubled as a storeroom and spreads rapidly from that location up an rear stairway, trapping victims in their rooms. The fire begins sometime before 3:00 a.m., and when electricity fails, residents, many of whom are patients in local drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs, are left to find a way out through thick black smoke. The search for bodies begins after the fire is struck at about 5:30 a.m. Says one firefighter, "Every time I opened a door, I found another body. We were to be relieved at 8 a.m., but at 7:30 I had to get out of there. I couldn't stand it anymore." [Chicago Tribune, March 15, 1981]

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